Fanny Crosby: Legendary Methodist Hymn Writer
The favorite hymn "Blessed Assurance" is one of more than 8,000 penned by a blind, musical visionary. Fanny Crosby’s songs are favorites in the United Methodist Hymnal. The Rev. Alfred Day of the General Commission on Archives and History tells us why the life story of this 19th century poet is as inspiring as the words we sing today.
“Blessed Assurance” is one of the most beloved songs in the United Methodist Hymnal. The person who composed this classic is credited with writing 8000 hymns in her lifetime--despite losing her sight six weeks after birth in 1820.
The Rev. Alfred T. Day: “Fanny Crosby was not held back at all by her blindness. And probably the words of her poetry and hymns helped more people to see and know and experience Jesus as anybody with two working eyes and 20/20 vision.”
From the age of 15, Crosby attended the New York Institute for the Blind and later joined the faculty and met her husband there. Alexander Van Alstyne, blind himself, was supportive. He often transcribed his wife’s poems since Crosby could not write and composed the lyrics entirely in her mind.
Crosby’s writings never brought her wealth. She was often paid just a dollar or two per poem with the rights to the songs being retained by the composer or music publishers. At one point, the songstress was destitute but Crosby wrote in her autobiography that the songs were God’s work and not for profit. Any royalties she received were often donated toward the mission work she championed with immigrants and the poor. “Pass Me Not O’ Gentle Savior” was penned while Crosby was working in prison ministry.
Music: “Pass me not O gentle Savior, hear my cry.”
In 1850, the poetess experienced a conversion at Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church in New York. Crosby was drawn to the denomination’s work with the marginalized.
Music: “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying.”
“Rescue the Perishing” was written one night after Crosby prayed with men at a city homeless shelter. Crosby’s songs spoke to social issues of the day including the temperance movement and the campaign against child labor. Her writing process always started with a prayer and she sometimes composed six or seven poems a day. Setting a personal goal of winning a million people to Christ through her hymns. Crosby said many times, “Don’t waste sympathy on me, I’m the happiest person alive.” She passed away in 1915, at the age of 94.
The Rev. Alfred T. Day: “Her life was her hymnody and at the rate at which she wrote she didn’t have time for much else. That was her passion.”
Music: “Jesus has died for me. Jesus my all.”
In 1975, Fanny Crosby was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. United Methodist Discipleship Ministries features the stories behind some of Fanny Crosby’s hymns including “Blessed Assurance” and “Close to Thee.”
The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and UMC.org have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting from the history of the denomination. Watch more videos here.
This video was first posted on May 31, 2017.